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Secondhand Smoke is Poison




CARBON monoxide, lead, arsenic and benzene are poisons that most of us go out of our way to avoid. But this is the toxic cocktail in tobacco smoke inhaled by smokers and potentially their families in the home and car.


That's the warning from Fresh as the "Secondhand Smoke Is Poison" campaign re-launches this week. The campaign encourages smokers to quit or take it outside, ensuring children and grandchildren are not regularly exposed to smoke in indoor spaces.


Figures from the British Thoracic Society in 2016 suggest that one in three children who ends up in hospital with an asthma attack has been exposed to cigarette smoke. Other figures from the Royal College of Physicians show secondhand smoke may be resulting in up to 4,900 middle ear infections among children each year in our region.


Evidence also shows that adults exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.


A new survey also shows that 11% of adults living in the North East (1) say they are exposed to other people's smoke in their own home by someone who lives there.


Ailsa Rutter, Director of Fresh, said: "No-one wants to put their family at risk. However secondhand smoke is a serious risk to health, spreading around the house and lingering, long after you can see it or smell it. Smoking with the back door or window open does little to protect the family – quitting or taking it completely outside is the only way.


"Secondhand smoke results in numerous health problems in infants and children that require hospital and GP attention. However, people often forget that smoke can cause serious health problems among older children and adults are affected as well and they need protecting too."


Dr Malcolm Brodlie, consultant in paediatric respiratory medicine at the Great North Children's Hospital and MRC clinician scientist and clinical senior lecturer at the Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University, said: "Breathing in secondhand smoke is harmful to people from all age groups, but children are especially vulnerable as their lungs are still developing and they breathe fasterthan adults, so inhale more of the harmful poisons. There is no safe level of exposure.


"We see the effects of this on hospital wards too often. Children and babies who are exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to develop coughs, wheeze, asthma and infections like pneumonia and bronchiolitis. Children exposed to smoke are also more likely to develop middle ear  infections which can be painful and require medical attention."


In 2010 the Royal College of Physicians revealed that passive smoking resulted in 300,000 GP appointments and 10,000 hospital visits for children a year. Figures adjusted for the North East suggested it causes:

  • 800 chest infections among under twos
  • 4,900 middle ear infections for 0-16yr-olds
  • 900 new cases of wheeze & asthma for 0-16yr-olds
  • 24 cases of bacterial meningitis
  • 12,600 children needing to visit the GP
  • 400 children needing to go to hospital


In contrast to the known harm from secondhand smoke, there is no evidence of harm to bystanders from exposure to e-cigarette vapour. The many harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke are either not contained in e-cigarette vapour at all, or are usually found at much lower levels. The risks to bystanders from exposure to e-cigarette vapour are likely to be extremely low.


8 tips to help you keep the home smokefree – even if you don't want to quit

If you do want to smoke, the best way to protect your children from secondhand smoke is by taking several steps away from your house, making sure any children in the house are safe. Closing doors and windows will stop smoke drifting back in.

Consider switching to an electronic cigarette instead of tobacco. The harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke are either not in e-cigarette vapour at all, or are at much lower levels. Risks to bystanders from exposure to e-cigarette vapour are likely to be extremely low.

Choose another time to smoke outside, like taking the rubbish out or on your way to the shops.

Try nicotine gum, lozenges, inhalator or spray just to get you through times you want to smoke at home and can't get outside – such as during car journeys.

Ask visitors who are smokers to go outside to smoke, or smoke before they arrive at your house.

Remember it is illegal to smoke in a car with a child under 18 present. If you smoke in the car before your children get in, remember smoke can linger for hours - your child is still exposed to poisons even if you've just put a cigarette out.

Make some practical changes to help you keep your home and car smokefree, for example keep a coat and a pair of shoes near the door and remove ashtrays and lighters.

If you are thinking of quitting smoking there's lots of help and support to make it easier – visit


(1) Smokefree 2018 North East Survey, conducted by YouGov on behalf of ASH.